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Striving for net zero, choosing local and saving a family business

Farmer Bryce Cunningham says the power of people choosing local has not only helped ensure the survival of his family’s farm – but its push towards net zero too.

And the third generation dairyman has described how the most simple of decisions for shoppers to back businesses close to home has remarkable effect as part of Scotland Loves Local Week.

Nine years ago, Mossgiel Farm, near Mauchline in East Ayrshire – famous for being the place where Robert Burns once farmed – was on the brink of collapse. 

But a radical transformation which saw the family take back control from dairy giants, as well as going organic, has actually seen it grow and diversify, creating jobs along the way.

Bryce had been a mechanic with Mercedes Benz for 10 years when his grandfather, who first took over Mossgiel in 1948, and his father both fell seriously ill. He made the decision to go back to the farm – and has been there since.

He said: “As I was growing up, the conversations were that I had no interest in farming. But with my father and grandfather both unwell, the family were going to lose the farm. I took time away from my job at Mercedes, initially only for a few months.

“At the same time, the milk price collapsed. We ended up losing £100,000 and realised that things had to change dramatically.

“That, for us, was to become organic and sell our milk directly to the local consumers. That took away the power of big dairy and supermarkets. It allowed us to take back control.

“Over the years we decided that we didn’t just want to be one farm supplying a small amount of milk, we wanted to help other farms do what we have. We started working with five other organic dairy farms in South West Scotland.”

Supplying schools and working with other local businesses

The enterprise has grown from local milk deliveries to supplying shops, restaurants and cafes with organic Mossgiel Milk – as well as securing the contract to supply all of East Ayrshire Council’s nurseries and primary schools. The family also has a coffee shop in Stewarton.

It now employs 38 people across the farm, dairy, deliveries, office and coffee shop.

A poll commissioned by Scotland’s Towns Partnership as part of the Scotland Loves Local campaign in 2023 showed that 85% of people questioned across Scotland agreed it’s vital that people in their community support businesses on the local high street.

Three quarters also agreed that spending more money locally improved the quality of work and life.

The double impact of residents shopping locally and businesses buying locally from nearby enterprises has brought a double-positive at Mossgiel. It is an example of community wealth building in action.

Bryce said: “The benefit to the local economy is huge when you shop local. You’re not just supporting that business, you’re supporting their family and supporting employees who then go and spend their money as well. It keeps the money local and really boosts the local community.

“There’s community wealth-building too. We’ve lots of different people at all stages of their lives who can benefit from local supplies.

“The East Ayrshire Council contract was really important to us. When we started talking to the council, we were worried that we were far too small a business. But, actually, our flexibility as a small business and the support of the local authority has catapulted us forward.

“It’s helped us move towards our net-zero target by investing in things like milk vending machines and electric vans and solar panels. It’s also helped us employ more local people.”

Innovation at Mossgiel: An environmental trailblazer

Mossgiel is a trailblazer in terms of its environmental work – eliminating single-use plastics with milk delivered in traditional glass bottles, as well as bringing in electric vans and embracing biomass.

The farm currently has 110 head of Ayrshire cattle, with 28 cows being milked. As well as its organic and environmental work, it also operates a cow with calf system thought to be used by just two dairy farms in Scotland where calves are left with mothers for up to nine months, with weaning at three months.

“It’s a small herd, but we would like to grow that with this cow with calf system and invite other farmers to do it too,” Bryce said.

Bryce’s sister, Kyrstin, who heads up Mossgiel’s “moo-rketing”, added: “The decision to turn back the clock and bring back the goodness of yesteryear in a more robust, independent way of doing things, is what has led to the Mossgiel Organic Farm of today.

“To further the cause of sustainability, we believe that there must be fairness in the supply chain, from grass to glass. Therefore, we support as many local businesses as we can, promoting seasonal organic produce in our coffee shop and supplying our organic milk to many other businesses.

“Provenance is becoming increasingly important for many people and we’re all for that.”

Circular local economies deliver for all

STP Chief Officer Kimberley Guthrie said: “Choosing local is transformational for people, businesses and communities. Everyone wins. And there’s nothing better than fresh local produce too. Local produce helps us grow our local economies, but is also a great way to enjoy our local provenance.

“When shoppers support local businesses – and local businesses support each other – it provides a firm financial foundation for sustainable economic growth where wealth is shared fairly. It’s an essential element of growing our national economy from its grassroots.”

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